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Hobbs issues order mandating gender affirming care for state employees

Gov. Katie Hobbs is again wading into culture wars, issuing executive orders Tuesday to halt the use of public funds for "conversion therapy" while mandating them for "gender affirming health care," at least for state and university employees and retirees.

In her first order, the governor took aim at practices designed to convince individuals — particularly minors — that they are not gay. It specifically prohibits the use of state or federal dollars to "promote, support, or enable" conversion therapy on minors.

That would include the health insurance that the state makes available for its own or university employees. That coverage does include mental health services.

What also would be affected are any mental health services available to individuals and families enrolled in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program.

The governor, in her executive order, said such therapy is based on "the false premise that homosexuality and gender-diverse identities are pathological."

Separately, Hobbs directed the Department of Administration, the state's personnel arm, to remove language exempting "gender reassignment surgery" from the health care policies now available to state and university employees and retirees.

That will most immediately affect Russell Toomey, a transgender professor at the University of Arizona who filed suit four years ago after he was denied coverage for a long-sought hysterectomy.

Toomey charged that the state refused to pay for what he said is a "medically necessary" procedure for his gender dysphoria even though the insurance policy covers other medically necessary surgeries. And that, his attorneys said, amounts to illegal discrimination based on sex as the insurance is supposed to cover all "medically necessary" surgical procedures.

The executive order now will end the lawsuit.

But the broader victory is that the governor's action order will clear the way for other transgender workers to get similar coverage.

At the heart of both orders, the governor said, is how the state treats some of its residents.

"Our LGBTQ+ community should never have to face hate and discrimination," Hobbs said in a prepared statement.

"The state is leading by example on this issue," she continued. "And we will continue working until Arizona is a place where every individual can participate equally in our economy and workforce without fear of discrimination or exclusion."

Both new orders are an extension of actions the governor took on her first day in office expanding existing rules against discrimination against current or prospective state employees.

At the time that covered things like race, sex, religion, pregnancy and veteran status. She extended that to include other traits that cannot be considered in hiring, firing or pay, ranging from gender identity and marital status to culture, creed, social origin and even political affiliation.

Hobbs' expanded list also included sexual orientation, though that appears to already have been covered in a 2003 executive order issued by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano.

A threat by Sen. Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) to challenge the order never materialized.